Cambodia – Phnom Penh

11 Feb

As we started planning our winter trip south – a tradition when we live in China – we knew we wanted to return to Thailand but also thought we could add a few places to our itinerary. At first we were looking at Vietnam and Cambodia but once we found out that we would have to get rather expensive tourist visas for Vietnam, we decided to skip it. After looking at our Great Mekong guidebook, it looked like Cambodia would be a good place for biking – but more on that on future posts.

We flew into Phnom Penh and arrived before midnight. Milad had managed to fall asleep just as the plane was landing. Already on the plane, I had filled out three sets of papers for customs but once we got into the airport, we were told we had to fill in another paper to get our tourist visa. Peiman was carrying Milad and I was frantically filling out the papers. One official came over and said he could get someone to help us faster so we wouldn’t have to line up. I was grateful but it turned out this was a scam to rip us off. First the said they would accept Chinese Yuan but at a ridiculous exchange rate – 10 to 1 instead of 5 to 1. When I realized that, I quickly went to take out American dollars from the ATM and paid with that. The visa was to cost $30 so I gave them $200 and was given $100 back. I thought they were being generous and we went to line up at the immigration line. While lined up, I looked at the four visas and noticed that the price for the two adult ones was indeed $30 but the two children ones were free; therefore I had overpaid by $40. We were all annoyed but too tired to go back and do anything and decided to let it go.

Once we got our bags (for which we were grateful when we saw some people at the lost luggage line), we went outside and were pleasantly surprised to find a taxi driver standing with my name. (I have never had this happen to me and had always wished to see my name written down and being picked up – sounds silly but it’s true). The ride through the city revealed a lot of garbage and rundown housing. My daughter was not impressed. We finally arrived at our hotel and the taxi driver asked for $15. We thought that was a bit much and since he had no change for $100 and I only had $11 from before, we gave him that. He left and the hotel personnel translating said he would come back for the other $1 the next day – so the real price turned out to be $12. He deserved to lose that dollar for trying to overcharge – he never came back.

By the time we went to bed it was 2am (3am China time) and well we didn’t get enough sleep but things looked brighter in the morning. We stayed in a very lovely large family suite with two rooms with large beds, lovely furniture and large bathroom. We went off to search for more ATMs, sunglasses, bus tickets and a swimsuit for Roya (she forgot hers at home!). We found all but the swimsuit. The funny thing about getting money from the bank was that our Chinese bank cards worked much better than our Canadian one – allowing for more money to be taken out and working in more machines (at first we tried but failed with our Canadian card at a few machines, even causing one to go temporarily out of service).

Milad trying on sunglasses in the market.

Milad trying on sunglasses in the market.


Money in Cambodia is an interesting thing: there is basically a dual currency system, with US$ and Cambodian Riel. The conversion rate between the two is 1:4000 or 4100 in some stores. So you can pay with either or a combination of both. When your change is less than $1 you are give the rest in Riel. $2.50 is often given as 10 000 Riel.

Khmer restaurant for lunch near our hotel.

Khmer restaurant for lunch near our hotel.


Inside the restaurant.

Inside the restaurant.


After our mostly successful outing, we went back to our hotel as Milad needed to rest, having caught a nasty cold just before our trip and not having had enough sleep. We ate at a Khmer restaurant near our hotel (Green Oasis Villa where we had a lovely stay) and went back to our room. After some attempt at making the kids rest, I decided to go to the Royal Palace nearby by myself and the rest were happy to stay at the hotel in our room or by the pool below.

I had a nice time visiting the palace – as the reviews said, it was not as grand or large (or crowded) at the one in Bangkok but it was still lovely. Here are some pictures:

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After some selfies, I noticed a Chinese couple asking a guard to take their picture so I decided to do the same 🙂

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The next two pics are the outside of the Silver Pagoda, whose floor is all made of silver (though mostly covered by carpet).

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At the little exhibition centre outside the building area, I took a picture with the lovely statue and then took a picture of the lying down Buddha, the musicians playing some traditional Cambodian instruments and their audience.

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Back outside, I thought this man sleeping in a hammock in his tuk tuk was great. Then I made my way back to hotel, snapping a few more pix.

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When I got back to the hotel, I leaved that Milad had managed to badly snub his big toe whose nail he partly broke – my poor accident-prone boy! We all went down the pool area, Peiman playing the travel guitar he had made and I take a dip in the pool.

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This is the view from our hotel window – interesting contrast between the peaceful inside and dusty, poor outside. But we really loved our hotel – Green Oasis Villa – with its large two room and two large bed family suite plus well-made furniture and large bathroom.

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And then it was time to head out to the bus station: we may not come back to this city again, not being super impressed by it, but we did enjoy our stay at this well-located and well-priced hotel, with great service, esp. from Vishna.

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